Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
Investigation finds Avon and Somerset firearms officers followed policies and procedures in fatal shooting
An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation found no indication that the police officers who fatally shot Spencer Ashworth in Portishead behaved in a way that would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings or committed a criminal offence.
On 27 September 2017 armed officers from Avon and Somerset Police responded to a report of a man driving a car travelling south on the M5 waving a handgun and having fired at another motorist. The red Suzuki car was brought to a stop on the A369 Portbury Hundred, Portishead shortly after 9.30 am.
Officers attempted to verbally engage with Mr Ashworth for more than 30 seconds, but he did not comply with instructions to show his hands and exit the vehicle. He fired his pistol at an officer and four armed officers discharged a total of 15 rounds from their Glock handguns over a period of four seconds. Officers followed by paramedics attempted CPR but sadly Mr Ashworth, 29, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Later analysis showed Mr Ashworth’s weapon was a Walther air pistol which a firearms expert described as having the appearance of a genuine Walther P99 semi-automatic pistol. The air pistol had been fired twice during the engagement with armed police, with one officer superficially injured when hit on the thigh.
All of the firearms officers were treated as witnesses throughout the IOPC investigation which concluded in October 2018. Issuing our findings has awaited an inquest. At Avon Coroner’s Court yesterday a jury returned a conclusion of lawful killing.
IOPC Regional Director, Catrin Evans, yesterday said:
“I send my condolences to Mr Ashworth’s family and everyone affected by this tragic incident. The evidence shows officers initially provided loud, clear and unambiguous verbal instructions to Mr Ashworth which sadly he did not comply with. The fact that four armed officers fired simultaneously can, in our opinion, be considered an indication that each of them, concurrently and instinctively, perceived there to be an immediate threat to life. We believe that the pistol in the hands of Mr Ashworth, and pointed in the manner that it was, would have had the appearance of a real firearm.
“After the shots were fired, all the firearms officers and other police who attended immediately attempted to save Mr Ashworth’s life. All key policing witnesses engaged positively with the post-incident procedures, and provided detailed accounts, which included their honestly held beliefs.”
While interaction was captured on some of the attending officers’ body-worn video, our investigation identified learning that all authorised firearms officers should be reminded of the requirement to commence recording on their BWV when they are authorised and directed to attend a firearms incident.
During the course of our investigation, it became necessary to look at the actions of West Mercia Police and the Central Motorway Policing Group (CMPG) and how they dealt with information they received from a member of the public approximately an hour before the shooting. A witness reported he had been shot at by a man driving a red car further north on the M5 at around junction 8. There was a delay in passing on this significant information to Avon and Somerset Police which in our view did not amount to any case to answer for misconduct but raised a performance issue for a West Mercia call handler. A West Midlands police constable attached to the CMPG was also asked to learn and reflect on the way he dealt with the incident.
We have been advised that improvements have been made to information sharing arrangements between the forces since the incident.
For the IOPC investigation, investigators analysed a large volume of evidence including body worn video, 999 recordings, a ballistics report, forensic evidence and conducted interviews with the relevant police officers and witnesses.
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